Tuesday, August 11, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer isn't quite as original or as charming as it wants to be with its hip soundtrack and cooler-than-cool leading lady. There are pleasures to be had for sure: Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel ) wander through a happy L.A. I'm not entirely sure exists, full of funky vinyl shops and revival house movie theaters. Deschanel has never been photographed so beautifully on screen and gets to show a hint of the iciness that I think critics tend to underrate in her acting. (I'd recommend her work in Winter Passing to anyone who hasn't seen it) Joseph Gordon-Levitt probably got a bigger paycheck for his role in G.I. Joe, but he has to be much happier with his performance here since Tom gets an emotional arc that goes from swooning love to desolation. There is that soundtrack; I don't think Oscars are given for music supervision, but Regina Spektor's "Us" is especially well chosen while "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" could serve as the movie's theme.

Still, who are we kidding? (500) Days (and why the parentheses?) is tonally a good deal more muted than your typical assembly-line romantic comedy but in other ways it is a product of the same mold. The not-quite-adult mood swings of Tom are our real subject here. The opening scenes (which contain that same portentous narration that ruins the trailer) inform us that Tom's life is centered around meeting "The One," while all we learn about Summer is that she has long hair and doesn't seem to be fully in touch with her own emotions. We perceive Summer through Tom's eyes, from his first sight of her across the office to their breakup over pancakes. The situation is never reversed; does Summer think Tom is marriage material or mildly obsessive? The contrivance that drives the plot is Summer's professed desire to avoid relationships. Her fear of commitment is never explained, it's just an excuse for director Marc Webb to fill time with close-up's of Deschanel's face and flourishes like a postcoital dance sequence performed by Tom to a Hall & Oates song. While Deschanel's character isn't called upon to dance or babble in the way that say, the heroines of Garden State or Elizabethtown were, she's an equally willful and enigmatic version of a familiar archetype: the woman who exists to help a man grow up. Finally (500) Days of Summer is a good try, a film made with care and some ambition that doesn't quite have the nerve to follow through on its promise.

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